News

Myriad duties under a single roof

By Casey Steiner

The Courier-Herald

The neon sign at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Wells Street has glowed "POLICE" in red, white and blue since 1987. It has remained as a sign of consistency to the community. During times of frequent change, the men and women of the Enumclaw Police Department have stood unaltered in their effort to serve and protect.

Those in uniform are often given a bad rap with unfair stereotypes. While appreciated in times of need, officers are sometimes considered an inconvenience in everyday lives.

Post-9/11, the image of the police force has changed in the eyes of many Americans. Given the chance, members of EPD feel they can change that image even more - proving they like to laugh, smile and have a good time like everyone else.

The voice...

Thousands have trusted her with their emergencies, sometimes their lives. From concerns of grandma not answering the phone to reports of fatal gunshot wounds, she has taken calls in Enumclaw for more than four years.

The voice on the receiving end of 9-1-1 calls belongs to Communications Officer Vikki Howard, a native of Manchester, England. She has worked as a communications officer for 14 years, both for the EPD and the Issaquah Police Department. One of five members (six if a part time position is made full-time this year) in the same capacity in Enumclaw, she works with certain spunk and the even-keeled demeanor necessary in dealing with emergencies and officers alike.

"Oooh, highlights," Officer Doug Osterdahl teased, while picking at Howard's hair.

"Get out of here, Doug. Don't you have some work to pretend to do?" Howard fired back in her English accent with a smile. The two continued badgering each other as playful co-workers often do.

Moments later a call came in on the Emergency Medical Services line. Howard worked effortlessly reading and entering information in the six computer monitors sitting directly on her desk while talking to the concerned caller. As soon as she picks up the phone her slight accent disappears.

Howard takes a handful of calls while entering the necessary contact and dispatch information into her computers. Between calls she helps two different visitors, who walk into the lobby on the other side of a bullet-proof window, asking to pick up two different men scheduled to be released from jail within the hour.

...and her equipment

Howard, and every other communications officer, works eight-hour shifts monitoring six different computer screens while answering five different phone lines for EMS, fire, police, 9-1-1 and a business line into the department. She keeps an eye on the view of nine video cameras located throughout the department while monitoring a panic screen on the wall that tells her if an officer is in distress. She does all this from a room with a security code entrance and bullet-proof windows.

Through a degree she earned at Renton Technical College, Howard has learned the skills necessary to do a job dependent on the simultaneous use of six computers. The computers include a touch screen phone system that helps to organize a network of phone lines and a global positioning system (GPS) that tracks the exact location of each caller the moment the phone rings. Two flat-screen computers are for logging calls and reports as well as running warrants, driver's status, stolen property and other public safety issues. The last computer is the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) which helps to reduce emergency response times and improve accuracy and efficiency of communications.

The dungeon

In the depths of 1705 Wells St. stands a jail, holding up to 25 male and female inmates convicted of misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors for up to a year.

"We can hold felons, but our court does not process felonies," Sgt. Tyler Chilman said. "We hold them until they are transferred to King County RJC (Regional Justice Center)."

The newest technology in the jail is a video arraignment system which allows the court to arraign subjects without the subject ever leaving the secure premises of the jail. An escape by an inmate more than a year ago led to the implementation of the system in March. On a day when 13 inmates were being transferred to court, one man escaped the watch of a corrections officer. He was later captured and is now serving 352 days under the watch of Chilman and the four other corrections officers.

The Enumclaw jail takes contracts from other departments as local as Maple Valley and as far away as Kirkland. When other jails are full, they pay EPD $50 per day to hold prisoners. Maple Valley pays permanently for two beds to be held no matter what.

"A lot of other jails are only 30-day jails, so they transfer people here," Chilman said. "We have 24 contracts right now."

Handy tool belt

"In the past, all the police would carry is their night stick and a gun," Chilman said. "They basically had to depend on their night stick and hand-to-hand combat. Now we have a whole lot more options. And that's a good thing when you consider all the situations you can find yourself in."

Along with their night sticks and German made SIG Sauer .45 caliber handguns, officers today have the option of carrying pepper spray and a Taser. They also wear Kevlar ballistic vests under their uniforms and have shotguns and assault rifles, along with other crowd control options, at their disposal.

"You never want to be in a situation where you have to use your gun, but in the case you do, you want a gun with stopping power," Chilman said as he showed off his weapon. "You want the bullet to stop inside the target rather than going right through. This is a great gun."

The Taser fires metal barbs 21 feet and gives a shock of 50,000 volts to its subject.

"I've used it 10 times and no one has ever stayed on their feet," Officer Osterdahl said.

Each officer is required to be "tazed" once in training of the weapon.

"It makes your muscles tense and contract," Officer Chuck Hauswirth said.

"I was actually laughing when it was my turn," Chilman said. "It really doesn't hurt. When it's over, it's over. But there's really nothing you can do while you're being hit."

Happy family

Twenty-nine men and women and a dozen or so volunteers make up the close quarters of the EPD. The brick building has two floors; the top houses the police department and dispatch, the bottom holds the six-cell jail and a garage. Most cities don't have the luxury of having everything under one roof.

"Other departments waste a lot of time driving around taking subjects to and from the jail," Chilman said. "They arrest someone, and then have to drive him through the city to the jail for arraignment. We can do it all here under one roof and save hours per day."

Combining the force saves time for officers and saves money for taxpayers, but it also means a great deal of personalities are forced to coexist in one small area.

"Most of the people here live in the area and are members of the community," Chilman said. "Enumclaw is a great place to work and we're all very happy with the direction Chief Zoll is taking the department. I love my job and I'm pretty sure everybody else enjoys theirs, too."

The EPD volunteers recently polished off another "Cops for Kids" Christmas celebration. A room full of gifts were wrapped and distributed.

"They are wonderful people that are appreciated departmentwide," Chilman said. "They help with the "Cops for Kids," vacation house watch, traffic trailer detail, the Christmas parade and other parades and probably a whole lot more that I can't think of right now."

Casey Steiner can be reached at csteiner@courierherald.com.

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